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Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota 134 U.S. 418 (1890)


This decision, making the courts arbiters of the reasonableness of railroad rates, presaged the Supreme Court's final acceptance of substantive due process ten years later. The Minnesota legislature had established a commission to inspect rail rates and alter those it deemed unreasonable. A 6–3 Court struck down the statute as a violation of both substantive and procedural due process. Justice samuel blatchford found that the statute neglected to provide procedural due process: railroads received no notice that the reasonableness of their rate was being considered, and the commission provided no hearing or other chance for the railroads to defend their rates. Moreover, Blatchford said that a rate's reasonableness "is eminently a question for judicial investigation, requiring due process of law for its determination." A company, denied the authority to charge reasonable rates and unable to turn to any judicial mechanism for review (procedural due process) would necessarily be deprived "of the lawful use of its property, and thus, in substance, and effect, of the property itself, without due process of law" (substantive due process). In dissent, Justice joseph p. bradley declared that the majority had effectively overruled munn v. illinois (1877). Bradley's opinion explicitly rejected the assertion that reasonableness was a question for judicial determination; it is, he said, "pre-eminently a legislative one, involving considerations of policy as well as of remuneration." If the legislature could fix rates (as precedent had shown), why could it make no such delegation of power to a commission? Indeed, the Court's next step, in reagan v. farmers ' loan & trust company (1894), would be the claim of power to void statutes by which the legislature itself directly set rates, and, in smyth v. ames (1898), the Court would reach the zenith, actually striking down a state act for that reason.

David Gordon

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